Scottish Whisky Distilleries Embrace Renewable Energy Sources
The Scottish government aims to obtain 100 percent of the country’s power from renewable energy sources by 2020. In 2014, renewable energy became Scotland’s leading power source. Recently, the Scottish whisky industry has undertaken a collective effort to improve its sustainability, prompted by an Industry Environmental Strategy developed by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in 2009. Implemented at the organization’s seven grain and 101 malt distilleries, the strategy applies to more than 90 percent of the industry.
When the SWA first launched its plans, only 3 percent of the whisky industry’s energy came from sources other than fossil fuel. The strategy includes a plan to bring this number to 20 percent by the year 2020 and sets a goal of 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. In 2012, the industry had already increased its use of renewable sources to 16 percent, putting it on track to potentially meet its first target with years to spare.
Much of this success is due to sustainable developments in the whisky distilling process. Distillation accounts for 79 percent of the energy used by the industry, and it traditionally involves the burning of fossil fuels. However, John Dewar & Sons, part of the Bacardi group, has projected a carbon footprint reduction of as much as 90 percent following the installation of a wood-pellet boiler at its Aberfeldy facility. The company will soon install a second boiler in Royal Brackla and is also researching anaerobic digestion (AD) as an additional option.
A number of Scottish distilleries have already begun using anaerobic digestion to fire their stills. The process requires breaking down organic matter, which produces biogas and biofertilizer. To fuel AD, the companies combine leftover grain known as draff with pot ale, a liquid distillation byproduct rich in yeast and protein, to create methane, which serves as an energy source for distillation. Recent research by groups such as Celtic Renewables and Heriot-Watt University have explored the role of anaerobic digestion in creating a circular energy economy, as AD byproducts can be harnessed for purposes such as animal feed, fertilizer, and transport vehicle fuel.